Plaschke: Hope has arrived: All aboard the Bruins bandwagon

The bandwagon is barreling now.

You’ll need to sprint to catch it. You’ll need to shove to board it.

The UCLA football bandwagon, revved up in this space last week, furiously eight-clapped its way across the grass-stained backs of college football royalty at a roaring Rose Bowl on Saturday night and is now churning up wondrous clouds of legitimate hope.

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These Bruins are honest-to-goodness good. These Bruins are for-real real.

UCLA locked helmets with the mighty 2019 national champion LSU Tigers from the fabled Southeastern Conference on Saturday and an amazing thing happened.

The Bruins didn’t flinch. The Bruins didn’t fade. The Bruins were tougher. The Bruins were faster. The Bruins were better.

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Yeah, did you hear that over there in SEC land? The Bruins were better. They were way better.

Maybe you couldn’t hear it because the Rose Bowl was roaring, and the Bruins were dancing, and a Saturday night in Pasadena was screaming for the first time in forever.

It was UCLA 38, LSU 27, with the Bruins moving to 2-0 in a season whose promise is now limitless.

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They haven’t been to a Rose Bowl in 23 years. They haven’t had a winning record in six years. Both streaks are in danger of ending.

“I’m so happy for this community, so happy for this team. It’s a long time coming,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said. “I know the Bruin fans had to wait a while, but we got things rolling in the right direction now.”

On a steamy night in front of a huge UCLA crowd whose cheers overwhelmed the thousands of LSU voices and shook the grand old house, the Bruins used a punishing rushing game, a timely passing attack and a bruising rushing defense.

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Then they capped it off with fireworks, a confetti shower and a giant downfield heave of the football from jubilant Thompson-Robinson.

UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich (85) is congratulated by offensive lineman Duke Clemens (62) after Dulcich scored on a 75-yard second-quarter touchdown catch.

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(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As the Bruins left the sparkling field to grateful cheers from sweat-stained hordes, safety Stephan Blaylock made note of who wasn’t there. A purple-clad mass of folks that had made so much noise so early in the game was suddenly nowhere to be found.

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“Where the LSU fans at?” he screamed.

They had disappeared, fleeing the premises as their beloved Tigers were unceremoniously flattened.

Just as their team had been outworked, their fans had been drowned out, an outcome nearly as compelling as the final score.

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“It was loud, it was fun, and these players deserve it,” said coach Chip Kelly, who has more nonconference wins in the last two weeks than in his previous three seasons combined. “It’s a really fun team to watch and support.”

It was only fitting that in the locker room afterward, the coach whose three-year victory drought has threatened his job was doused with water bottles by his players in celebration.

“It’s good to have wet hair on Saturday night,” Kelly said. “That means that we did something good.”

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A game in which many thought the Bruins’ early-season promise would go whoa was instead full of wow.

Thompson-Robinson connected with Greg Dulcich on a spinning, juking 75-yard touchdown pass that rocked the stands.

“I was excited about what our team put together,” Dulcich said.

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Thompson-Robinson hit Chase Cota on a skipping-into-the-end-zone 14-yard touchdown pass that left folks laughing in awed surprise at the dominance.

“We knew we could do it all along,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Didn’t listen to the noise. Blocked it all out.”

Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown ran over everybody again, the Bruins rushing for 208 yards against an interior defense that offered little resistance. The defense crunched and squeezed and held the supposedly faster and more skilled Tigers to 48 yards rushing.

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To be fair, LSU had a rough week off the field, with some of its players rocked by Hurricane Ida and the entire program forced to move its operations to Houston. It was a tough way for a team to start a season, and even tougher because the Bruins had already played a game.

“I just want to make sure our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody in Louisiana,” Kelly said. “With what that team went through … take a 10-hour bus ride just to get to Houston … it [the hurricane damage] has been devastating.”

The Bruins gave up the game’s first score, but responded 14 seconds later on the pass to Dulcich and never trailed again, continually countering LSU jabs with powerful gut punches.

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The punctuation was applied midway through the fourth quarter when new UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond grabbed the field microphone and exhorted the crowd to, “Get on your feet, stay on your feet the whole time, let’s go.”

Many in the announced crowd of 68,123 — the biggest Bruins turnout here in five years — did just that.

Meanwhile, the Bruins kept them entertained when receiver Kyle Philips broke two tackles on a spinning, 45-yard touchdown catch with 6:31 left to clinch it.

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Afterward, for the record, that big guy doing snow angels in the confetti was linebacker Bo Calvert.

“It’s kind of emotional,” he said. “These guys have been fighting every day. There’s been some tough times, and we just pushed through that. … We’re just getting started.”

UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet breaks free for a long gain against LSU in the third quarter Sept. 4, 2021.

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UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet breaks free for a long gain against LSU in the third quarter.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times))

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There was visible emotion between the first and second quarters during a sweet tribute to the late Terry Donahue, the former great UCLA coach who died July 4 at the age of 77. It featured an end-zone gathering of his family and many of his former players. Even Kelly ran down from his sideline perch to join the memorial.

Wouldn’t Coach Donahue have loved this night?

The duel began with a jab delivered by LSU coach Ed Orgeron to a heckling UCLA fan as Orgeron was walking into the Rose Bowl from the team bus.

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“Bring your ass on, in your sissy blue shirt,” Orgeron shouted.

The Bruins brought it. The Bruins mauled it. The Bruins owned it.

“It’s not our goal to beat LSU,” Thompson-Robinson said. “It’s our goal to win the whole thing.”

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The bandwagon rolls on.

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